By Peter Oliver
Memorial Day might be a holiday in the U.S., but it was Canadian riders who had reason to celebrate the return of the Killington Stage Race this weekend after a 10-year hiatus.
Hugo Houle (Garneau Club Chaussures Ogilvy Renault) of Quebec earned the pink jersey as the general classification winner by being the most consistent rider among the elite men, never finishing worse than fourth in any of three stages. Meanwhile, Ontarian Sue Schlatter (Stevens Racing-the Cyclery) capped a dominant stage 2 time-trial performance with a powerful last five kilometers on the hilly stage 3 road race to finish just ahead of second-place Kristen Gohr (Stage5).
Saturday’s stage 1, a 73-mile circuit race, held on a rolling, 18-mile loop, featured an unusual gearing challenge; the long climb on the backstretch was at a gentle enough pitch that many riders chose to ride it in their big chain ring, as long as it wasn’t too big. However, to compete for the sprint finish, on a fast, slightly downhill stretch, a huge gear – perhaps a 55×11 – was in order. Backed by a strong team effort in chasing down the few breakaway attempts, Robbie King (Ora-Independent Fabrications) managed to outgun Houle at the line, in a sprint contested at approximately 48mph. It was an exceptionally fast day in the saddle, with the average speed at 27mph. Put another way, Jamey Driscoll (Jamis-Sutter Home), more of a climber than a sprint specialist, said it was “a classic fast-guy sprinter’s race.”
In the 11-mile, slightly uphill time trial the next day, a headwind with gusts of over 25mph battered riders on the second half of the course, giving those who chose to use deep-dish front wheels all kinds of steering problems. Tim Mitchell (CCB-Wheelworks), a Harvard man, seemed to do the best job of making the necessary aerodynamic calculations, winning the stage. Houle again played the bridesmaid, but took the leader’s jersey from King in the process.
Monday’s 61-mile road race, with two major climbs and a steep, one-kilometer uphill push to the finish, was the determining stage for the final GC. A four-man group that had formed about 20-miles from the finish arrived together at the bottom of the decisive East Mountain climb, with pitches exceeding 15-percent. In the group were Driscoll, riding the weekend without any teammates, and Justin Lindine (BikeReg.com-Cannondale), whose team, by contrast, had been working hard Saturday and Monday to keep at least one of their riders in any breakaway.
In the end, it was Driscoll who won the day, with Lindine sliding into third behind Timothy Rugg (Battley Harley-Davidson). That effort pulled Driscoll up into third in the final GC, with Houle, hanging on in seventh at 1:00, securing his overall victory.
Among the women, Schlatter came into the race a favorite – as a strong climber, she won the 2009 Mt. Washington hill climb. Her individual skills, amply demonstrated in the stage 2 time trial, were supported in Monday’s race by the well-coordinated effort of her Stevens Cycling teammates.
Along with Anna Barensfeld (LadiesFirst), Gohr, also a strong climber, fought hard to stay in contention with Schlatter. But when the Canadian surged near the top of the East Mountain climb, about five kilometers from the finish, neither Gohr nor Barensfeld could match her pace. Like Driscoll, Gohr had been riding with no team support. “All my teammates are having babies,” Gohr said with a shrug at the finish.
In all, the revival of the race, once considered a New England classic, was well-received by all riders. “This was a great time slot for the race,” said Lindine. In terms of training and conditioning, he said, “This is prime time for New England racers.”
The race was once known as the Beast of the East. Now the Beast is back, Canadian-style this year.